Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great German theologian who paid the ultimate price for standing up to Hitler, once said: “The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children.”
By that metric, Florida is doing better — but not well enough.
In the most recent legislative session, business leaders, policymakers and child advocates came together to celebrate Children's Week. It's the most recognizable advocacy initiative in the Florida Capitol. Handprints from children across the state hung for three stories in the Capitol rotunda, but the real work being achieved can be seen in classrooms around the state, reflected in better student performance, higher graduation rates, and more jobs filled by better prepared graduates.
When we invest wisely in our children, we invest in a brighter tomorrow. If we want a booming economy, we need to put our money where it counts. That means Florida needs to invest more — significantly more — in early learning.
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Florida TaxWatch research shows that for every $1 invested now, $7 is saved in taxpayer burden later. These savings come from prison costs, meaning that children who participate in early learning programs are far less likely to enter the criminal justice system; education costs, because children in early learning programs need less remedial instruction, and all the other expenses we bear because of societal shortcomings.
But it's not just investments in early learning that save taxpayer money, it's all the results — increases in academic achievement, economic activity and higher revenue. Children who participate in high-quality early learning programs generally make more money, have greater disposable incomes, and pay more taxes than those who miss out on the opportunity for exponentially higher growth afforded by programs like brain-stimulating, genuine-quality child care and Florida's voluntary prekindergarten program.
The evidence of return on investment is so clear. Why, then, has Florida not invested more heavily in cost-effective early learning programs? It doesn't make sense to do other than invest in those earliest years (especially when we know that 90 percent of brain growth occurs in a child's first five years).
Next time you happen across a handprint, think of the child whose hand formed its likeness. Think of the potential eager to be unlocked. Nothing could be more “American” than to give every child the best possible chance to fulfill his or her potential in school and in life.
The greatest gift we can give our children — all our children — is a real future. That future begins even before birth.
Dominic Calabro, CEO of Florida TaxWatch, Tallahassee
David Lawrence Jr., president of The Early Childhood Initiative Foundation, Miami